The Hill isn’t the first publication to question the party line from the White House on al-Qaeda in the wake of the shuttering of nearly two dozen embassies, and they won’t be the last.  Jeremy Herb gets to the heart of the matter quickly and efficiently,

Groups affiliated with al Qaeda have grown in strength over the last year, prompting new challenges for the Obama White House that has touted its record in fighting terror groups.

President Obama declared al Qaeda on the run following the death of Osama bin Laden, but that assessment is being called into question now that the group has been caught planning a major terrorist attack. …

The U.S. has closed 19 U.S. embassies across the Middle East and North Africa in response to the threat, which was reportedly traced back to Ayman al Zawahiri — the man who took bin Laden’s place as global leader of al Qaeda.

While experts say the conflict in Syria and reverberations from the Arab Spring have provided new fuel to extremists groups, the White House insists al Qaeda remains far weaker than it was when Obama took office.

Actually, what they’re saying now is that they only meant “core al-Qaeda” when they made those claims in 2012, and not AQ affiliates.  Jay Carney tried parsing that distinction yesterday in the press briefing, prompting a somewhat acerbic aside from an unnamed reporter about caveats as Carney tap-danced his way around the question (via Instapundit):

Carney said that the “president has been clear that the threat from Al Qaeda very much remains,” and said officials were particularly concerned about affiliates of the terror group outside its main “core” in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“As Al Qaeda’s core has been diminished through the efforts of the United States and our allies, affiliate organizations, including in particular, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have strengthened. We have here in Washington have identified AQAP in particular as the dangerous threat,” Carney said.

Carney added that the affiliate groups had been a point of focus “for some time now,” and said the U.S. had “focused a great deal of attention on those affiliated organizations.”

But Carney also defended President Obama’s declaration during the 2012 campaign that the terror group was “on the run,” saying the week-long closure of embassies throughout the Middle East did not invalidate the administration’s anti-terror accomplishments.

“There is no question that over the past several years that the Al Qaeda core has been greatly diminished, not least because of the elimination of Osama bin Laden,” Carney said.

The developments over the last few weeks speak to a different conclusion.  Worldwide AQ has managed to stage almost a dozen jailbreaks in the last two weeks, freeing hundreds of its operatives from detention and putting them back on the streets.  One particularly large success came in Benghazi, where the US helpfully removed their jailer, Moammar Qaddafi, without putting any boots on the ground to provide security in his absence.  The US has intel, which the Obama administration leaked, showing that the current threat has been directed by core AQ to its affiliates, and in fact core AQ pressured the affiliate into picking up the pace against the West.

If the core of AQ is “greatly diminished,” why would Zawahiri be able to impose that pressure?  Given the scope of the jailbreaks, which extend from northern Pakistan through Iraq to Libya, it seems very clear that the effort is being coordinated above the affiliate level.  That’s a feat whose coordination goes beyond even the 9/11 attacks.  In terms of the scale of the threat, our embassies aren’t closing because of one particular AQ affiliate, either.  When was the last time we closed 19 of our embassies in countries with normal diplomatic relations due to a wartime threat?

The threat from al-Qaeda hasn’t been diminished by the Obama administration.  Thanks especially to its disastrous intervention in Libya, the threat from AQ has risen dramatically, perhaps exponentially, with the creation of the failed Libyan state and the metastasizing AQ presence in North Africa.  Mali nearly paid the price for it, saved only by direct military intervention from France, but there will be a price yet to pay for it nonetheless.